Colombian tilapia sets a record high in exports for 2020

Frozen Tilapia
Published Feb 23, 2021
The Colombian Federation of Aquaculturists revealed that 2020 was the best year in history for shipments abroad for the Colombian fishery industry with a 48% increase in exports. Tilapia was the product with the highest growth in shipments from the aquaculturist sector as there was an increase of 65% compared to 2019. Production improvement, product differentiation, and close proximity to the most significant market are all the main factors aligned to put Colombian Tilapia on the map.

Despite the uncertainty that the world economy went through due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Colombian fish-farming sector showed positive and historical growth in its exports. It has become the leading supplier of fresh tilapia fillet, taking over Honduras. Its export of fresh or chilled whole fish has also increased considerably in 2020, maintaining its leadership for U.S. imports.

Tilapia Production is Key for Colombian Aquaculture

The aquaculture industry in Colombia has gained extreme importance by now representing 65% of the country's total fish production. Tilapia represents 95% of the aquaculture production, becoming so crucial in Colombia that it is now the main growth factor for national aquaculture, growing more than 9% annually.

The country's formal tilapia production capacity increased by 4,200 tons, reaching an estimated 140,000 tons in 2020, making Colombia the second-biggest producer in Latin America just after Brazil. The production center is located in the Betania dam, in the Huila department, where more than 46% of the total volume is produced.

Production costs are relatively low due to widely used farming techniques such as; floating rafts, ponds on land, and the low price of concentrated feed produced locally. The implementation of new technologies for fish production is being developed to optimize the use of water, soil, and food by implementing closed systems with the use of Biofloc technologies, water recirculation, and the use of renewable energy (photovoltaic systems).

Strong competitive advantage on Fresh Tilapia Fillets

Thanks to the proximity to the American market, the main export product is the fresh fillet of black tilapia, representing a significant advantage with respect to its competitors, most of which send tilapia by frozen presentations.

Due to the global pandemic in 2020, global consumption for high protein sources has been forced to look for cheaper substitutes, causing an enormously increasing demand for fresh tilapia in markets such as the U.S. and Canada. Colombian tilapia has positioned itself as the perfect substitute for sea protein such as salmon.

Fresh fillet Tilapia was the product with the highest growth in its shipments, with its 11,595 tons in 2020, there was an increase of 65% compared to the previous year. In 2019, fresh tilapia fillets had an export value of USD 40 million, increasing its value to an estimated USD 75 million in 2020. With this increase, Colombia positioned itself as the largest exporter of tilapia to the United States, displacing Honduras.

Source: ITC Trade Map, Tridge

As for the fresh whole fish tilapia market, Colombia increased its shipments from 650 tonnes to 3,479 tonnes worldwide. The U.S. has also been its most substantial buyer with 87% of its export share, with an estimated value of USD 13 million. Other buyers of fresh whole fish are Canada, Spain, Chile, and the United Kingdom.

Colombian Tilapia on the Global Market

The global tilapia market attained a volume of 6.6 Million Tons in 2019 and generated an estimated value of USD 950 million. It is consumed across the globe and gaining popularity in Asian and American countries. It is inexpensive and mild in taste, making it a good substitute for expensive alternatives such as salmon.

In just five years, the Tilapia industry doubled its volume of exports, from 6,407 tons in 2015 to 12,898 this year. Major export destinations for tilapia and trout in their different presentations were: United States, Peru, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, Ecuador, Spain, and Chile.

The cost per kilo of whole fish goes for about USD 1.5, and the fillet can reach a total cost of USD 2.35/kg. It is divided by fresh and frozen products, being the fresh or chilled tilapia the most demanded in the main markets such as the United States, Canada, Zambia, and some European countries, which are the biggest importers of fresh tilapia products.

Source: ITC Trade Map

With Colombia positioning itself as the largest exporter of fresh tilapia to the United States, the next step would be to increase its exports to other import countries as well as to increase exports in the value-added frozen products.


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